The New Zealand Anglican Church may not have followed the correct procedure in 1970 to allow clergy to marry divorcees. The Church did not follow the requirements of its own Act of Parliament. So, for the last half century, clergy marrying divorced people may have done so without fundamental authorisation.

If you are not interested in the (possibly-esoteric) internal workings of NZ Anglicanism, come back here tomorrow, and read about something of more general interest in tomorrow’s post. Go and walk out in nature; have a coffee; talk to a friend. But if you are interested, pull up a chair and take time to understand my discovery. In all the procrastinating debating, about what to do about homosexuals in the Church, my discovery, that it is actually heterosexuals who (in far larger numbers) are in breach of our own agreements, must be one of the more fascinating moments.

Until 1970, the doctrine of New Zealand’s Anglican Church was that marriage was between a man and a woman united for life. The Church can change its doctrine. It can do so by a complex process (it followed this process, for example, when it decided to ordain women). The change is enacted by adding or altering a ‘formulary’ (an agreed teaching and/or practice of the Church). Described simply, the process (often nicknamed “the twice-round” process) requires passing at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW); then by a majority of dioceses and hui amorangi; followed by a 2/3 majority at a newly-elected GSTHW; and finally a year’s wait for anyone to make an appeal.

Currently, the Church is discussing changing doctrine – the focus is on the first half of the marriage doctrine mentioned above: “between a man and a woman.” GSTHW will debate blessing the civil marriage of same-sex couples, and doing so by a new formulary.

But in 1970 the Church changed the second half of the marriage doctrine, the “united for life” part. It changed it to “intention to abide by the lifelong intention of the proposed marriage”. When I write that the Church changed its doctrine in 1970, it actually did no such thing. It did not follow the process required by our own procedures to make such a change. General Synod should have initiated the normal process as outlined by the Act, just as it was doing with many other changes in the Church. It did not. It simply enacted a canon (merely a rule, which only requires a majority vote at one sitting of General Synod).

So on our horizon now is the fascinating possibility that we can bless committed same-sex couples but are not able to officiate at weddings of heterosexuals who are divorced.

Publicly and privately I have been castigated that I am not clear enough that these are blog posts with my own opinions, and that I don’t check my facts first. So, read my lips: this is a blog post – what I write on this site, unless otherwise credited, is the result of my own research and expresses my own positions and ideas. As for the facts – you are adults; this is the internet; if you are unsure, check out the facts for yourself. I regularly provide sources and links to help you with that.

In case readers are unclear about the consequences of my discovery presented here, let me also clarify: all marriages officiated by Anglican clergy are legal marriages. There is no question of the legality of marriages of couples where one is divorced (or where both are). The State recognises clergy as marriage celebrants, and the State recognises the ability to officiate at marriages where someone is divorced. The State would, similarly, recognise the marriages of same-sex couples who were married by Anglican clergy.

Thinking This Through

In our Canons (2.9) there is permission for clergy (if their conscience allows) to marry a couple where one is divorced (or both are). I have long suggested this as a model that could be applied to blessing committed same-sex couples. The usual response from naysayers is: “two wrongs don’t make a right.” My frustration is that (correct me!) no one has even put a motion to revisit our marrying divorcees. This gives me the inevitable intuition that it is not the “wrongness” that is the issue for such people, but that, for them, there is something particular about homosexuality.

Regulars here know I see issues with the proposed blessing of civil marriages. It would be a formulary limited by a canon:

  • We could end up with a belief no one could put into practice;
  • The Church will not regard any civil marriage as “a rightly-ordered relationship” until it is blessed (currently a marriage is seen as “rightly-ordered” whoever has officiated);
  • People holding a bishop’s licence could lose that (and with it their livelihood) if they are civilly married and are in a diocese where one cannot bless such a marriage…etc…

As you know, I was surprised that a canon could limit a formulary. There is, as far as I know, no written agreement that this can be the case. There is only the Marriage Canon that has, offline, been presented to me as an (the only?) example of a canon limiting a formulary. And in that canon two issues leap out.

Firstly the canon claims (2.6) that

The minister shall use one of the marriage services or a composite of the required elements of the authorised services provided in the Formularies of the Church.

That you can cut-and-paste between rites is not a limitation of a formulary. It alters the formulary. Altering a formulary cannot be done by a canon (a majority vote at one sitting of GSTHW); it must be done by the “twice-round” process of the 1928 Act. 2.6 in the Marriage Canon cannot effect what it purports to allow.

Secondly (2.9):

The marriage service of a person who has been divorced may be conducted by a minister even though the other party to the prior marriage is still living.

In 1968, General Synod debated a Bill to “enact a canon to provide for the marriage in certain circumstances of divorced persons.” It did not pass the Third Reading and was held over to the next session (1970). Archbishop Norman Lesser, in his President’s Address to the 1968 General Synod, expressed grave reservations, and at one point said,

what the Western Catholic Church [of which the Archbishop saw this Church as a part] has never countenanced is the taking of a new partner while the former one is living. This is not a refusal by the Church to dispense from the marriage vows. It is the belief that those vows, of a sacramental nature, resulted in a God-given relationship as permanent as a relationship between parent and child… many will urge [“permitting the ‘remarriage’ of divorced persons”] be adopted in the name of compassion. It is not a lack of compassion but a different view of the nature of things as God has created them – of what a marriage is, which is the heart of a contrary position.

The point is, lest the wood be lost for the trees, that this is not a thread debating whether Christians can marry after divorce. This is about the way that this Church dealt with the conviction that this is possible. After some further discussions at diocesan level, General Synod in 1970 did not proceed to alter the marriage doctrine by the means required of the Church under the Act. It merely, inappropriately, enacted a canon by a simple majority at one sitting.

Less than two years ago, GSTHW finally acknowledged that our Church has been acting inconsistently with the 1928 Act and in a way that lacked fundamental authorisation in the first place. I suggest that clergy marrying couples of which at least one is divorced may need to be revisited, and, with face-saving clauses (such as “whereas doubts have been introduced that…”), the Church may need to follow our agreed processes with heterosexuals as rigorously as with homosexuals.

Which, as a conclusion of this post, brings me to a refrain of mine: why has SO much energy been expended on whether committed same-sex couples may be blessed (theological, canonical, legal – with years of meetings, talks, Hermeneutic Hui, petitions, and papers) when the majority issue, blessing a post-divorce union of heterosexuals, has received comparatively scant examination? You don’t need to tell me or anyone else the answer to that question – but at least be honest with yourself.

This post, of course, is not the first time that this website has drawn the Church’s attention to not following proper processes and resulting in confused and confusing liturgical agreements. If you appreciated this post, do remember to like the liturgy facebook page, use the RSS feed, and sign up for a not-very-often email, …

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